Some of hype for NBA’s opening night doubleheader wore off when it was announced New Orleans Pelicans star rookie Zion Williamson was going to miss extensive time to injury.
Even then, Williamson’s Pelicans team put up a heck of a fight in an overtime loss to the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
Later in the evening, the Lakers and Clippers renewed what had been a non-existent rivalry for the better part of the past two decades.
The Staples Center was absolutely lit as Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis made their Southern California debuts. In the end, the Clippers came out on top in another tightly-contested affair.
Here, we look at the biggest winners and losers from NBA’s opening night doubleheader action.
Winner: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
The defending champions are going to be asking a lot from VanVleet following the departure of reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. At least for one night, VanVleet showed that he was more than up for the task.
The guard tallied 34 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a stellar 12-of-18 shooting. This represents the most points VenVleet has scored in a game throughout his career. Despite an unfortunate injury scare, he looks to be ready to step up in Canada.
Loser: Pelicans starting point guards
We saw Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday connect for a beautiful lay-up early Tuesday evening. The two have star power and should complement one another pretty well. Unfortunately, we did not see their dynamic scoring potential in an overtime loss to the Raptors Tuesday night.
Ball hit on 2-of-7 shots en route to scoring just eight points. Meanwhile, Holiday hit on 40% of his attempts and turned the ball over five times. We understand it’s going to take a while for the two to get accustomed to one another. In no way did this happen in their regular-seasons debut as teammates.
Winner: Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Crowned the new King of Toronto following a massive contract extension, this young forward is ready to take the league by storm. The New Orleans Pelicans found that out first-hand Tuesday evening.
Despite a less-than-stellar 11-of-26 shooting from the field, Siakam was all over the court in a brilliant all-around performance. He dropped 34 points to go with 18 rebounds and five assists before fouling out. It’s this type of performance that has fans in Toronto hoping that a Leonard-less team will not be completely lost in 2019-20.
Loser: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans
No one can say that this rookie first-round pick from Virginia Tech is afraid to shoot his shot. It’s something that Alexander-Walker was known for during his time with the Hokies. But the youngster needs to know when enough is enough.
That did not happen in his NBA regular-season debut. Alexander-Walker connected on just 1-of-10 shots, including going 1-of-7 from three-point range in just 12 minutes of action. Sure he played well on defense, but that high volume of shots cost New Orleans in an overtime defeat.
Winner: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Tuesday evening at the Staples Center did not start out too great for the reigning NBA Finals MVP. Leonard was booed savagely by a crowd that consisted mostly of Lakers fans in what was technically his home debut. From there, the game’s best wing took that slight and dominated in every which way.
Leonard finished the evening having scored 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting, adding in six rebounds and five assists in a dynamic performance. For at least one night, Leonard proved that Los Angeles can be big enough for both him and Mr. LeBron James in leading his Clippers to a narrow win.
Loser: Lakers bench
These Lakers might have the star power in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, they are going to need a questionable bench to come out of an ultra-competitive Western Conference. Said bench struggled something fierce in a narrow loss to the Clippers Tuesday night.
Jared Dudley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Quinn Cook, Dwight Howard and Troy Daniels combined to shoot 7-of-21. The Lakers were also a combined minus-51 with them on the court. That’s simply not going to cut it moving forward.
Winner: Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers
There’s a reason the Lakers doled out $15 million annually to this veteran. Green has come up big time and again during his career, including for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals last season. He has an ability to stretch the court, which is huge with Davis and James playing isolation ball.
Green showed this and a whole lot more in his Lakers debut, hitting on 7-of-9 shots from distance while finishing plus-seven in 32 minutes of action. That type of overall performance will loom large for the Lakers moving forward.
Loser: Clippers back court
Once Paul George returns from injury, this likely won’t be as big of a deal for the Clippers. But for now, they are going to need more production from their starting back court. Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet did not add anything of substance against the Lakers.
The two combined to shoot 4-of-15 from the field while scoring 10 points. Sure Beverley’s defense played a role in helping the Clippers maintain a late-game lead. But he’s no longer being relied on to be a solely a defensive stopper. Both guards must step it up offensively moving forward.
Winner: Clippers bench
What separates this Los Angeles team from the other is an ability to go 10 deep and not worry one iota about it. That was on full display against the Lakers on Tuesday night with four members of the Clippers bench showing out in a big way.
JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell, Mo Harkless and Lou Williams put up 60 points and were a combined plus-38 when on the court. If the Clippers get this type of production from their bench once Paul George returns, watch the heck out.
Loser: LeBron James and Anthony Davis
Billed as the best duo in Southern California since Shaq and Kobe, this future Hall of Fame tandem was outclassed by a much deeper Clippers team on Tuesday. More than anything, James and Davis settling for jumpers in the first regular-season action as teammates was concerning.
Once all was said and done, the two converted on just 15-of-40 field goals and turned the ball over a whopping eight times. They did not come up big when it counted the most. It’s just one game, but the concern about the two meshing has to be real.